Look ‘Beyond the Table’ During National Nutrition Month

The National Nutrition Month theme for 2024, “Beyond the Table,” challenges us to look inside the different ways that food impacts our daily lives – from production, consumption and sustainability.

As consumers, we have a direct impact on food sustainability through our consumption practices. Americans discard billions of pounds of food each year, in addition to the food that goes uneaten at grocery stores. Preventing food waste is one of the easiest and most powerful actions we can take to save money and conserve resources.

As a Board Certified PA and registered dietitian, I recommend that the best place to start is in our own kitchens. Here are some tips to get you started:

Take Inventory

  • Assess the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry for items that need to be used before they expire.
  • Make a list of additional items you need for meal prep.
  • Purchase only the necessary amount of ingredients needed for this week’s meals, especially fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products – which don’t have as long of a shelf life as non-perishable items.

Get Creative with Leftovers

  • Chop up leftover meats to use on top of salads.
  • Use leftover vegetables in soup recipes, which can be frozen for future use.
  • Use leftover fruits, such as berries and apples, to add to yogurt or oatmeal.
  • Wrap leftover meat and vegetables in a tortilla or pita to eat as a sandwich.
  • Other leftovers can be repurposed in casseroles, stir fries, sauces, and smoothies.
  • Explore the art of canning or dehydrating leftover foods.

Practice Food Safety

  • Eat leftovers within 3 or 4 days or freeze items for up to 3 or 4 months.
  • Arrange foods in a way that products with closer expiration dates are toward the front of the pantry and refrigerator shelves. These items should be eaten first to avoid expiration.
  • Wait to wash produce until just before consumption.
  • Although we try to avoid throwing out food, if you suspect an item may be spoiled, dispose of it instead of eating or drinking it.

Use Appropriate Storage Practices

  • Most vegetables, especially those that could wilt, should go in the high humidity drawer of the fridge, versus most fruits, which should go in the low humidity drawer.
  • Fruits such as bananas, apples, and avocados should be stored away from other produce. These items release ethylene gas as they ripen, which could cause other nearby produce to also ripen faster.
  • Items such as potatoes, onions, and garlic should be stored in a cool, dry, and dark space.
  • Store condiments in the fridge door, rather than produce, eggs, or dairy, because it is the warmest part of the refrigerator.
  • Meat, poultry, and fish should be stored on the lower shelves, which is the coldest part of the fridge.

Familiarize Yourself with Food Labels

  • Take time to notice the date printed on food and drink items purchased at grocery stores.
  • Differentiate between “use by” or “best by/before”- which includes a date that is suggested for optimal freshness, and “sell by”- which is found on perishable items and does not mean the item expires on that date, but instead can be used several days after that date if stored properly.

Compost Food Scraps

  • Composting is an aerobic process used to convert organic items into nutrient-rich soil additives through natural decomposition. Microorganisms feed on the compost pile and use carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen to grow, reproduce, and breathe.
  • Composting at home is a resourceful way to use food scraps and yard trimmings to create sustainability.
  • There are different ways to compost at home, including backyard composting and worm composting— resources for both options are available through gov.

 

Donate Extra Food

  • Most importantly, ensure that the food you plan to donate is still safe to consume.
  • Look for local food pantries and shelters in your area that accept shelf-stable items with further expiration dates.
  • Explore donation sites that accept fresh produce options – such as community refrigerators.
Maria DeLeo, PA-C, MS, RDN

Maria DeLeo, PA-C, MS, RDN

Maria DeLeo is a Board Certified PA and registered dietitian. She received her undergraduate degree in Nutrition & Dietetics from Marywood University in 2016. While working as a registered dietitian, she obtained her Master of Science degree in Community Health from the State University of New York. DeLeo then completed her Physician Assistant Program at Marywood University in May 2022. Through her passion for nutrition, she now specializes in Nutrition and Weight Management in Scranton, Penn. In August of 2023, she opened Northeastern Pennsylvania’s first community refrigerator. This was part of a national movement to help prevent food waste and fight food insecurity by providing fresh food alternatives to the shelf-stable items found at food pantries for local neighbors.